As a result of boredom and implausibility, my best friend, Peyton, and I planned my first trip out of the country on a random summer night. We were 16 and I had never left the United States. Secretly, we both hoped that our plan would take flight, but we anticipated disappointment. To our surprise, not even a week later, Peyton and I found ourselves in Munich, Germany, sipping on Pilsner in a Beer Garden.
Growing up in a family from direct Iranian and Greek descent, my parents always instilled the value multicultural influences hold. At family reunions, I was always surrounded by at least two languages, and regularly celebrated holidays separately from my peers. While I celebrated my unique background at home, I was always curious to experience other cultures.
In less than three days, we left the US, visited two countries, and returned home. Munich was the first stop, then Austria. It is honestly ironic that my first time out of the country was to Germany, considering my grandparents live in Michigan, a 45-minute drive to Canada. Although my parents weren’t able to support my desire to travel, I got lucky in the friend department.
Peyton has been to 16 countries. Parker, her younger brother, has been to 18. Lori, their mom, is a flight attendant at United Airlines. She has been to over 36 countries and counting, with 90 stamps on her passport to prove it. Throughout her career, Lori has successfully raised a family and kept a healthy marriage while traveling the world at least twice a week. She is a breast cancer survivor, an incredible mother, and always the life of the party. Lori discovered her passion for traveling early on due to her dad’s job as a salesman, which required them to move often from state to state.
Throughout high school, Peyton was notorious for packing a suitcase and flying out to Bali or London on a Wednesday at 10 p.m. for a couple of days. Her teachers weren’t happy about the amount of school she missed, but deep down, everyone, especially the teachers, were extremely jealous.
As Peyton and I planned our trip, we whipped together an argumentative PowerPoint, and attempted to charm our parents in to letting us go. Once we had full approval, Lori applied for a “buddy pass.” The pass would allow me to fly as a part of her family, resulting in a massive financial discount. Buddy passes usually take a week to get approved; however, we applied the night before we were planning to leave. So, we crossed our fingers and submitted.
The following day, as I sat in a restaurant with my family, my phone started to blow up. My “buddy pass” had been approved, and the trip was a go.
The plan was to take off from O’Hare Airport in an hour. Peyton and Parker were already packing, so I rushed home and grabbed my stuff as quickly as I could. I packed a sweatshirt, as well as a bikini, doc martens and flip flops. Traveling with Lori was fun because she made us dress up for the airport. We breezed through security, wearing our maxi dresses, wedges as well as a full-face of makeup — I felt famous.
We walked up to the departures board and scanned through the flights for the day. I remember Lori saying, “Alright guys, where do you want to go? We consulted the pass riding availability, which is a service that shows the empty plane seats we could snag. We narrowed our destinations down to Paris, Munich, and Frankfurt; however, we decided on Munich.
We found a flight with four first-class seats to Munich. I had never flown first class before, much less to Germany, so the entire adventure was hard to believe. We took off around 4 p.m., watched Vampire Diaries with split headphones, ate dinner alongside the sunset beaming through the plane window and fell asleep.
Woken up by the landing, I scrambled to make myself look presentable. As I walked off the plane, the German culture hit me harder than I ever thought it would. Suddenly I was surrounded by signs, gossip and commotion in a completely different language, one I had never heard before. I felt like I was in a bubble, completely isolated from the world around me. We made our way through the airport and in to a taxi to our hotel. We changed outfits in the lobby bathroom and started our day.
First, we explored the area around us. We ended up in Marienplatz, the city square in the heart of Munich, where the Kris Kringle Market takes place each year. We sipped beer, legally, and watched the Rathaus-Glockenspiel puppets dance as the clock hit noon.
Once satisfied with the traditional touristy spots, we shopped at German ZARA, ate Hoffer house pretzels and drank plenty of beer. We spent most of our night in one of the beer gardens; by far, one of the most exciting places I’ve ever seen. There was an array of park benches, made of beautiful wood with a shiny finish, with tent-like structures set up in a row, similar to food trucks. One of the trucks offered classic German food alongside beer, while another was a deli stand and lastly a German water station, also known as beer. The stand had a metal bar to determine where to line up, and there were a few spouts at the end of the line, with different types of beer ready to dispense. As late afternoon approached, that specific tent had at least 40 businessmen, still in their suits, briefcases in hand, lined up to snag a beer on the way home. The beer garden was extremely social, allowing us to meet people from different cultures and backgrounds.
That night, we were jetlagged, which made sleeping rather difficult, especially because 2 a.m. in Munich is 7 p.m. in Chicago.
The next morning, we hopped on the train and headed to country number two—Austria. The train ride lasted about an hour and a half. Most of the trip, we were entertained by the breathtaking views of the Swiss Alps.
It was astonishing to me how easy it was to go back and forth through European countries, it reminded me of crossing state lines in the US.
As soon as we arrived in Austria, we settled our stuff in the hotel and then went out to explore the beautiful city. We engaged in our first Austrian adventure by hopping on a gondola up to the Fortress Hohensalzburg Castle. We ate lunch overlooking the city of Salzburg. Looking back, this was probably my favorite part of the entire trip. It felt unreal. The authenticity of the Austrian culture paired with the ancient architecture was incomparable to the contaminated air and modern skyscrapers from Chicago. I felt like old money royalty.
After visiting the St. Peter’s graveyard, the inspiration for the famous “escape” scene in The Sound of Music, we found ourselves at an adorable local restaurant enjoying dinner.
At the airport the next morning, Lori gave us all a mini heart attack when she proclaimed that there were not enough open seats on the flights back to Chicago. Honestly, Peyton and I would have been more than happy to stay in Munich; however, Lori had to get back home so she could be ready for her trip to Shanghai the next day. After a long wait, we secured four spots home to Chicago. First-class, of course.
After returning, I reflected on the incredible moments I experienced on this trip. I realized, traveling with a flight attendant places so many things into perspective, for example, the amount of work that goes into air travel, the high anxiety environment and overwhelming hospitality. None of this would be possible without Lori. As a result of the trip and my experience, I now have more respect for flight attendants than ever before. Ever since this life-changing trip, I am considering pursuing a mini air travel career, at least for a couple of years, to see the world while earning a buck! In all of my wildest dreams, I never thought my first time out of the country would turn out to be a last-minute, casual two-day trip.
words_alli sharifi, photo_c.cagnin (courtesy of Pexels)